The Science supporting Connected Teams

The power of connection cannot be overlooked when establishing and embedding a successful culture in business.

Human connection, when nurtured and promoted, can have a positive impact on many facets of the business such as: Colleague to colleague engagement; Employee productivity as employees work to shared goals; Innovation (building colleague buy in to the long term success of the business); A sense of belonging and community, with increases in brand value, loyalty and commitment to name but a few.

In this era of Technology, connection has never been more important, and making the human connection can be the difference between your organisation’s successes, and failures.

So why is Connection so important?

Let’s go to the neuroscience…

A lack of connectedness stimulates the ‘loneliness’ response in the human brain. This response is a stress response like that which we experience when the brain senses danger. When the individual members of our team feel isolated or “lonely”, and when this stress response is triggered, business leaders can expect a negative impact on productivity, clear thinking, logical decision making etc. Individuals lacking connection may effectively enter “Fight or Flight mode”.

To help explain how our feelings impact how people present in business further, The Neuroleadership Institute organises the five key domains of social threat and rewards into five domains which make up the SCARF Model.  

These domains are Status; Certainty; Autonomy; Relatedness; and Fairness.  

Everyone is sensitive to these five domains to different degrees, and at different times. The challenge for complex organisational frameworks, and leaders, is in understanding how to consider these domains and build a business that can promote a positive response from colleagues through their colleague experience.  Embracing the SCARF Model supports leaders to recognise why connection is important and how it can be intentionally created for teams to thrive.

Many of us have been in a meeting where people are not engaging and new ideas are few, if any. Where we look around the room at expressionless faces working in silo to secure an exit from the room. Negative as that may sound, some leaders will embrace a meeting such as this to identify a need to address elements of the SCARF model within their team and ask the important, and brave question: WHY? Why are my teams disconnected?

Meetings like these are often symptomatic of a larger challenge in business culture and how the business is intentionally or unintentionally impacting the colleague experience and emotional state. These meetings demonstrate how members of the meeting were feeling at the time and can be assessed to identify opportunity for improvement. When business leaders are aware of the challenges faced, embrace opportunities to address those challenges and commit to promoting positive experience for colleagues, the business will benefit directly while colleagues grow and develop. Leaders can migrate individuals from a threat state, often referred to as “shutting down”, to a reward state where individuals feel appreciated, safe to share and contribute while thinking clearly and creatively.

According to Richard Boyatzis (one of the world’s leading professors in leadership development and emotional intelligence), once positive emotions are aroused, and the related neural activations and hormonal arousals occur, the PEA (Positive Emotional Attractor) state results in a person being more cognitively open.  By supporting colleagues to activate the PEA in the brain, they will naturally be more open to new ideas and problem solving, promoting feeling of value, fulfilment and contribution.

While according to another reputed neuroscientist, Amy Arnsten, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and psychology at Yale University, even mild, uncontrollable stress can cause a decline in cognitive functions such as problem-solving. But when we even have “the illusion that we are in control, our cognitive functions are preserved.”  So how do we put this into practice?  A starting point is to value input from employees and provide opportunities for individuals to contribute, striving for a collective outcome by creating shared time, shared experience, and shared goals within teams (create relatedness).  

Additional practical steps leaders can take to promote connection:

  1. As we emerge from the Covid restrictions, business leaders can find new and innovative ways to bring teams together and connect teams that would not usually be together to solidify culture connectivity company wide.
  2. Leaders can prepare and engage briefly, but frequently, on shared goals to promote shared purpose and team mindsets, such as a 15min session twice weekly.
  3. Host Innovation Workshops to bring perspective to opportunities and challenges, drawing benefit for diverse thoughts, minds and skillsets.
  4. Observe “The Magic 4” in any breakout meetings or when onboarding people to the company or a new team/project in groups no larger than 4, which has been proven to be the magic number for active participation, collaboration, openness, and attention. 
  5. Suggest cameras be switched on for interactive, task orientated meetings, so the team get a sense of “seeing others”. It may be worth advising the team they can hide “self-view” as many of us do not enjoy looking at our own faces on screen and can find it distracting (keeping self-view on increases the cognitive load and can have a negative impact on creativity).
  6. Leaders can create and promote a human centric culture, driving the creation of time for intentional moments for colleagues to learn about each other. Leaders can encourage teams to drop the “shop talk” for a few minutes in a meeting and build relationships on a human level such as family, hobbies and interests, background etc. This human-to-human connection will drive positive feeling, activating positive rewards states, which in turn will drive productivity, engagement, performance, and retention.

It’s worth investing the time as a leader in figuring out where your employees can be more connected, feel more connected and enhance their experience in your business as understanding and embracing the Power of Connected People could yield a significant return on the time invested.

Listen beyond what you hear, demonstrate you value the person you are speaking to and care about what they have to say.  The bottom line is most people want to be understood and appreciated. (Richard Boyatzis)

(Seppala and Cameron, 2015Spencer, 2015Zak, 2017b) ; Front. Psychol., 15 May 2020 | ; Neuroleadership Institute, Your Brain at Work ;  Richard E. Boyatzis ‘When Pulling to the Negative Emotional Attractor is Too Much or Not Enough to Inspire and Sustain Outstanding Leadership’. ; The Orchestra of Your Brain by Ann Betz | Jul 12, 2019 | 7 Levels of EffectivenessBEabove LeadershipBrainConsciousness

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